AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
A systemic, sustained and highly professionalized, team-run doping conspiracy. That description came today from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, in its case against Lance Armstrong. The agency finally revealed the evidence it used to strip one of the country's most celebrated athletes of his titles, and ban him from professional cycling. NPR's Tom Goldman has been following the story, and joins us. Tom, welcome.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Thanks. Hi.
CORNISH: So pretty damning statement there, from the agency, about Lance Armstrong. What's the evidence that this report actually describes?
GOLDMAN: Well, more than a thousand pages of evidence, and I'm not through it yet. It includes financial statements, emails, scientific data, lab test results; proving, in USADA's words - and as you mentioned there - the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that this sport has ever seen, carried out by the U.S. Postal Service team. That was the team Armstrong led during six of his seven Tour de France victories.
Now, a big part of USADA's case is from witness testimony. Twenty-six people testified, including 15 riders; 11 of them, former teammates of Armstrong's. Now, this is a significant moment, Audie, in that this really breaks the code of silence that has ruled elite cycling, and has allowed the doping to continue.
CORNISH: Let's talk more about those teammates. Who did the investigators actually talk to, and what did they say?
GOLDMAN: Well, there are familiar names - like Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis. Their statements will be viewed with skepticism, by some, because they have admitted doping after years of lying in public about it. So their credibility may be an issue. But the testimony of someone like George Hincapie will resonate. Lance Armstrong has called Hincapie a "great friend and true-blue, like a brother to me." Hincapie is the only cyclist who was with Armstrong on each of his seven Tour de France-winning teams. And Hincapie, in the public's mind, has been one of the most respected American cyclists.
In the report, he finally admits his own drug use; and tells about Armstrong's as well. Here are just a couple of examples. Hincapie testified that shortly before the 2005 Tour de France, "I was in need of EPO," which boosts red blood cell production and thus, oxygen; that's banned in cycling. "And I asked Lance Armstrong if he could provide some EPO for me. Lance said that he could, and he gave me two vials of EPO while we were both in Nice, France." Hincapie also talked about being asked by team leader Johan Bruyneel to make a drug sweep of the apartment Lance Armstrong used during the 2005 Tour de France - which he won - to make sure Armstrong didn't leave any evidence behind.
CORNISH: What happens to this information now?
GOLDMAN: Most importantly, it's being sent on to the UCI - cycling's international governing body, which has the right to appeal USADA's decision to strip Armstrong of his Tour de France titles. Now, the UCI has three weeks to decide. An appeal would go before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, where a final decision is made. The UCI has to be careful here. There's an immense amount of damning evidence in this report. Plus, the UCI itself is implicated in possible cover-ups of Armstrong positive tests. So to challenge before the court, at this point, would open up the UCI to a lot of - a lot of criticism.
CORNISH: Now, Lance Armstrong has vehemently denied these charges through the years, but he's also decided not to pursue an appeal. So what's the reaction from his camp today?
GOLDMAN: More vehemence. Part of a statement from Armstrong attorney Tim Herman calls the report a "one-sided hatchet job, a taxpayer-funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat- induced stories." So they're not happy with it.
CORNISH: And Tom, what about the fallout from today's report? I mean, aside from this tarnished image and loss of championships, what does this actually mean for Lance Armstrong?
GOLDMAN: Well, he hasn't officially been stripped of his titles. That will most likely happen when this process is complete, meaning the UCI has to sign off; or, if it fights the decision and the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules against it, then the titles actually are stripped. And that would be significant. It could mean Lance Armstrong is out between -7 and $8 million. Back in the mid-2000s, he won a $7.5 million settlement, in a case that revolved around a promotion company's refusal to pay him a promised bonus for winning a number of Tour de Frances. You know, the refusal came after doping allegations surfaced against Armstrong. The settlement was based on contract language that said simply, he gets bonuses if he's listed as winning the titles - which he was, despite the doping allegations. If those titles are stripped, the company will try to reclaim the money.
CORNISH: Tom, thank you.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
CORNISH: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.